New Year’s Resolution #5 – Compost

Around 27% of household garbage produced in the U.S. in 2010 was organic matter, including 29 million tons of uneaten food and 33 million tons of yard trimmings. Unfortunately, only 28% of this compostable material was recovered – the rest ended up in landfills, where the nutrients will remain trapped and also release high levels of methane, a greenhouse gas. You can help keep organic waste out of landfills by making 2012 the year you start composting.

Composting is a simple way to speed up the natural process of decomposition. A correctly maintained compost bin or pile creates the perfect set of circumstances – including the right temperature, moisture content, and balance of nutrients – for organisms like bacteria, fungus, and worms to break down organic matter into CO2, water, and biomass. It’s how nature turns your kitchen and yard scraps into nutritious soil.

Getting started is easy – all you need is a compost bin and organic waste. You can throw in almost any waste from your kitchen or yard, including leftovers, spoiled food, coffee grounds, paper products, grass clippings, or leaves. There are a few things you should be careful about adding, though. This includes fats like cooking oils and animal products like meat and pet droppings. While these items are biodegradable, most home compost piles will not get hot enough to break them down, which can lead to a smelly compost bin and may attract disease and pests. Also avoid composting waste that may contain nasty chemicals, such as paper with glossy inks or ash from charcoal briquettes.

Another consideration is the balance of nutrients in your compost. The organisms doing all that work need a balance of carbon, found in brown waste like paper, sawdust, or leaves, and nitrogen, which is found in green waste like food scraps and grass clippings. A good compost pile will have an even mixture of both brown and green items. Once this waste has been added to the bin, just keep the pile damp, but not too wet, and mix it regularly. In the span of a few weeks to a few months, all those bread crusts and tea bags will have turned into nutrient-rich fertilizer to use in your yard or garden.

You can also start composting even if you don’t have access to outdoor space. Indoor compost bins are small and convenient with built-in filters to prevent odors. Some cities also have commercial or industrial composting sites that accept household waste. If you can’t compost in your home, collect scraps in a kitchen composting bin, then just drop them off at your local compost site. These locations are able to reach temperatures not possible in home composting bins, so they’re also perfect for biodegradable items that are harder to compost, like bioplastics and meat products.

Goals for 2012

• Maintain a home compost bin. Try an outdoor bin, a kitchen composter, or a worm composter.

• If you can’t compost at home, arrange to collect organic waste in biodegradable bagsand drop it off at a local industrial compost site.

• Look for compostable products like trash bags and disposable tableware.

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